Tincian is the second album by 9Bach, the group formed by Lisa Jen and Martin Hoyland and available as a high-quality download.
It’s an atmospheric, emotional record that reflects their home environment of Gerlan, North Wales, and Tincian is the perfect description: it’s an allusive Welsh word that travels through time and space. Internationalists at heart, nine of the ten songs on Tincian were written and sung in Cymraeg, the final track in Greek.
Here, the band go through the album, track by track.
Lliwia means Colours. It’s a song written about childbirth. It’s a positive outlook on all the pain and craziness that is giving birth. It is a psychedelic description of labour and contractions comparing it to the rush of Ecstasy. All the colours you can see, brightly coloured shapes, the tunnel vision, when you close your eyes and the instant love that you feel for this soul that comes out.
“Tlws wyt ti fel LLiwia” translates as “pretty you are like colours” (chorus). It describes smelling the baby’s forehead, the comfort it gets in your ‘cesail’, which means armpit (cesail is a poetic, comforting word in the Welsh language). It’s about love and a promise to never leave, nothing else matters, you are perfect, and pretty, like colours.
Llwynog means Fox. Away from his home he kills best. It references Gyrn Wigau, which is a summit amongst the Carenddau. They include the largest contiguous areas of high ground (over 2,500 or 3,000 feet (910 m) high) in Wales and England. The fox stands still at the foot of this mountain, hiding behind the rushes. He’s escaped the shot of the farmer’s gun and is much faster than the farmer’s dog. The carcass of the lamb stains the stream red whilst the fox returns in triumph, and heads towards the Carneddau, back to his home in the Earth.
Pebyll is a ruin in LLanddewi-Brefi, Ceredigion, Wales. (If you Google Pebyll Llanddewi it comes first up!) It was written after discovering this derelict but beautiful building on a walk with my dog. He barked and refused to come in. I saw old shoes and the metal springs of old beds, the fireplace, the coal shed, the beautiful stonework and the skeleton of the tiny stairs. It’s a fantasy song about who may have live here. A young girl with her grandmother. It echoes my relationship with my Nain (grandmother).
It’s a story from the past. They sleep together in the bed, the child by the wall and Nain at the edge of the bed, the child sleeps in her nain’s arms. The fire turns to ashes by the morning, where the fieldfare, thrush and sparrow feed on the nearby threshold, the snowdrops push themselves through the black soil to make Nain happy.
It references the Foelallt, the rock that the Ox split by bleating nine times, which is an old tale about the village. It describes them walking down to the village as Nain gets older and more dependant on the child, the grass grows thicker. One night, death cast a shadow on the Valley, the sparrow knocked its beak on the window (a sign of death) and the child saw Nain’s eyes setting like the sun for the last time, in this dwelling with no one but each other.
A child is snatched from her mother’s breast by fierce men laughing. They hold her skinny arm too tight and throw her in a car, her black eyes and cheek pressed against the glass, screaming for her mother. Her mother is kicked and thrown to the ground, covered in red dust, hollering and screeching for her child (plentyn). The mother sings to please remember her when she’s grown up, knowing that she will never see her child again. She misses her daughter’s “just woken up” face, and the smile she gives first thing in the morning.
It is an imaginary story about an aboriginal child, based on people’s real life stories during my time with the Black Arm Band. The Stolen Generation of Australia is recent, I met people affected. I broke down when I heard Archie Roach’s song “Took The Children Away”. I wrote this in the back of a 4×4 traveling with the Black Arm Band to the remote community of Papunya in the Northern Territory. I was breastfeeding my youngest daughter during that time. It hit a nerve then, and continues to make my blood boil.
Wedi Torri is a song about seeing someone you love in a state. Wedi Torri means ‘It’s Broken’. In this song the loved one is a broken man. It’s the panic that sets in when you see this in someone, that haunted look on their face, the empty eyes, and hiding from everyone. I sing about the guilt, the self blame, the dry mouth, and sending you off to somewhere dark, so you end up with two broken people.
Pa Le means “which place?” and it’s a version of a traditional Welsh folk song, although we have tampered a bit with the format. The only traditional song on the album. She’s asking “where is my loved one?” and is worried it’s so late, there are clouds over the moon and the wind is rising, and temperature plummeting. My favourite line is “Mae’r Pridd yn goch, ger twr y Llan”. It means the soil is red by the tower of the church, and so implies the loved one is dead by the end of the song.
Ffarwel is a poem that comes from a book of local songs collected by Ieuan Wyn, a local bard and historian; songs that have been written by local people of the centuries. It is about a quarry man leaving the quarry for the last time. Retiring? Or because of a strike? Who knows? But he is nostalgic and sad to leave.
He will miss his tools ‘Ebillion Caib a Rhaw” which are gimlet, mattock and spade. He will miss the banter with the men and the old dinner hour where there would have been lots of talking, political debating, and singing. There are lots of local references to places within the quarry like ‘talcan mawr’ and ‘Braich Cafn’ all places that are now forgotten and those names are not used any more.
The chorus is ‘Glywi di? Glywi DI?” means ‘Can you hear? Can you hear?”
THE QUARRY AND MALE VOICE CHOIR IN THE TRACK FFARWEL:
Here are a few immediate thoughts about the quarry and our surrounding country and land here in Gerlan, above Bethesda: the village where I was born and although have left to travel and live elsewhere, these mountains have a magnetic affect on us all brought up here. We always return.
When you turn that bend from Llyn Ogwen (Ogwen Lake) whilst traveling on the London to Holyhead A5 Road, upon approaching the Ogwen Valley, it simply takes your breath away. I’m home. Above you have the rockiest mountains in Wales, one of them being Tryfan: the mountain John Hunt and Edmund Hillary chosen for practice in preparation to conquer Everest in the 1950’s.
Then right in front before you set eyes on Bethesda itself, you travel down the Nant Ffrancon Pass further down the valley, you see a gigantic slate tip, the Penrhyn Slate Quarry. It used to be, and maybe still is, the largest slate quarry in the world. It is this quarry that dominated my field of view as a child, I saw it from my bedroom, kitchen and living room window.
It is this quarry that fuelled the stories from my grandmother, she had polio when she was 8 years old and only had the doctors from the quarry hospital to help. They usually dealt with industrial injuries like amputations, and I was fascinated to hear about her trips there in wheelbarrows. It is this quarry that I now see from my living room window and the first thing I see when I leave the house in Gerlan; it is both oppressive and beautiful.
It’s the history of it, the stories, the effects, the suffering, the joy, the ugliness, the beauty, the bitterness and the life of the quarry that fascinates me. This is the reason for singing about it. It is in me – it’s tattooed to my skin and is a stamp that will always be there.
It isn’t clear if the quarry man in Ffarwel is leaving because of old age or whether it has anything to do with the Great Strike – Y Sdreic Fawr. This was the longest strike in British Trade Union history and lasted between 1900-1903.
It left women and children starving and still has an affect on our village to this day: families still hate each other as men are remembered as ‘traitors’ and ‘scabs’.
Whatever the reason for leaving the quarry in the song poem Ffarwel, it is a sad occasion. The gentleman has ‘Hiraeth’ a word that has no English translation but roughly means grief, sadness, loss and longing for his old ways.
In the book where I found the poem, it has a suggested melody which is a famous Welsh folk song – a very happy one. I didn’t think it was right for the mood and so went to the chapel vestry in Bethesda in the snow, with no electricity and heat and composed the melody to it on an out of tune piano. I was comforted by the old spirits and energy from this Jerusalem chapel: years ago it would have been overflowing with a congregation of quarrymen and their families.
But still, I felt it needed the power of a male voice. It’s his story: I’m just telling it, and so I decided it needed the Penrhyn Male Voice Choir to complete it. Penrhyn Choir was formed (this present form) in 1935, although the history of Bethesda Choral Society dates back to 1859. There was a very famous choir in Bethesda made up of mostly quarry men that travelled to Chicago in 1893 to the World’s Columbian Exposition: a significant event in American history.
During the strike in 1900 there were two choirs, a female choir and male choir that traveled the world to raise money for the strikers. The quarry had various choirs made up of men from various galleries (Ponciau). They would sing in their lunch break and probably competed against each other. I love the idea of looking out from the house here and hearing pockets of men singing from various galleries, ledges and spots on the big tip. In fact, the galleries and ledges and tips make the shape of an amphitheatre.
Today a young man conducts the Penrhyn male voice choir – Arwel Davies. I have been on many committees with him revolving around music and organizing gigs in Bethesda. In fact I believe he might have put Mart and me on as 9Bach in Pesda Roc, a festival in Bethesda, in 2003/4 – our first ever gig, we had 3 songs!!
We gave Arwel ‘Ffarwel’, to see if he would like to collaborate. He loved it, and I remember him popping down to Bryn Derwen Studios when we were recording it. He arranged the parts in four part harmonies for the men, then recorded it in their weekly Monday night rehearsals at the Cricket Club with their own recording equipment! The men are of all ages and I’m not sure if any of them work at the quarry nowadays but they all are from Bethesda.
We were delighted!! I love what they’ve done, and the hope is to do more together in the future. Arwel gets 9Bach: he gets the weirdness and the darkness – it’s great.
LLwybrau means Paths. This is a poem called LLwybrau Unig by William Griffiths, Hen Barc. Hen Barc is where he lived and often people are named then their home is noted right after: they come hand in hand. It is a book he wrote collecting old sayings from the local people, funny stories from the village/quarry, there’s lots of references to misuse of the English language amongst the people of Bethesda, as of course they very rarely had to talk in their second language back in the day.
But I came across this lonely poem in the book and fell in love with the words. The person is walking paths, and feels nothing, things have changed and too many friends lost, the person walks and visits gravestones of loved ones and wishes they were buried deep like them. This world is no longer theirs, and the person feels comfort by nothing but ‘angau’ death, and wishes to not be a burden to anyone. This person is very lonely although the world is full of people.
I read a book by Jerry Hunter called Gwreiddyn Chwerw (Bitter Root) and stayed up until 5am to finish it. I was transfixed. Babi’r Eirlys means Snowdrop Baby. A woman in the late 1890’s gives birth at home, in the middle of the night in extreme weather. The wind is howling and trees are crashing: it’s a difficult labour that panics the father. He comes racing up and down the stairs, up and down banging his feet in anger and frustration.
The only comfort the lady has is the sweet smell of the snowdrops in a cup that’s by her bed. The lady finally gives birth to a boy. It is clear to the mother and father that he is very small and has a bent back. It is instant love from the mother and pure hatred from the father. He insists she puts the baby under the bed to die by the morning. He has no wish to bring this strange looking baby in to their lives and wishes him dead.
She is weak, confused and scared. She complies. In her exhaustion and pain, she kisses him and cries, then bends over in agony and places him under the bed. BUT by the morning, in her sleep, and sub consciously she has picked him back up and placed him on her breast, and both mother and baby wake up together as healthy as anything. The father is furious.
The song says ‘it was no bad luck bringing the flowers to the house (it was regarded as bad luck in Wales to bring flowers in to the house!) it was pure comfort, the night you were born, that stormy night, I knew you would be my snowdrop baby’. The mother sings this song to her grown up son who is a beautiful and talented man. It is a truthful ode to her boy, explaining what happened that night.
Lou sings the backing vocals, all of the parts.
Αστέρι μου / Asteri Mou
It means My Star in the Greek language. This is a very simple song. I saw you in my dream and then you came to me, found me, to shine, in the dark, my star. It is about wishing for the qualities in someone, that love you crave, and then it comes to you when you least expect it.
It is written in my third language: Greek. I am not fluent by any means but I am learning. I have Greek family and Greece is a big part of my life. The land, the people, the food, the culture plays a big part in my life, and has helped to mould me!